Chelsea Scott-Blackhall is riding on a high. While her fashion brand Dzojchen has had a presence among the Hollywood crowd – dressing the likes of Johnny Depp, and Lenny and Zoe Kravitz, to name a few – it was Black Panther lead actor Chadwick Boseman who brought a newbuzz to the label when he showed up at the Asian premiere of the film in Seoul last February in a Dzojchen embroidered kimono-style suit, and subsequently in a Dzojchen bomber jacket on the February cover of Time magazine. A slew of other celebs have since stepped out in Dzojchen: Rising star Michael B Jordan, singer-songwriter Janelle Monae, model Sofia Richie, actresses Anne Hathaway and Priyanka Chopra… the list goes on.
But even before the celebrity endorsements, Chelsea always firmly believed her label would get somewhere. Launched in 2012, Dzojchen (pronounced “doh‐jen”) was first iterated as a denim brand, reflecting Chelsea’s personal passion for the fabric and its versatility. She started incorporating fabrics of exceptional quality into her designs, evolving the label into a line of luxury menswear and womenswear. “When you bootstrap a company, you have to build within your means. Denim was something I understood, and had an opinion and a vision about; I saw it as a good place to start. When we had the means to expand, we did,” explains the Singaporean Eurasian, who turns 37 next month.
“Having earned our stripes and learned many a hard and harsh lesson in this industry, I took the plunge and restructured Dzojchen into a luxury label in 2018. That meant a full clean-up of our distribution and a price restructure, positioning us alongside brands such as Haider Ackermann, Celine, The Row, Tom Ford and Balenciaga. This worked in our favour, and we started to dress stars last year, and some, such as Ryan Gosling and Blake Lively, even contacted us to produce custom designs.”
Dzojchen has made a fusion of seeming contradictions its aesthetic hallmark, and has retailed in major department stores across the US, Europe, Australia and Japan. A three-piece suit retails between US$2,500and US$5,000. While the brand, which plans to launch its first flagship boutique in America later this year, is not carried in Singapore, it does has an appointment-only showroom here for custom pieces. Local fans can also look forward to the brand’s web store, set to launch in the first quarter of the year.
A Singapore Girl At Heart
“Right now, things are really amazing, so I’ve almost forgotten about the early years of rejection. I was the only one behind Dzojchen for so many years, doing everything on my own. Being an entrepreneur and a designer is a lonely journey,” Chelsea admits. “No one really understands or cares about your brand as much as you do, or truly understands your journey. But I’ve been surrounded by incredible people with a lot of empathy and confidence in me, and that’s what keeps me going every day. Family and loved ones – the people you can be real with – keep me anchored.”
In under a month, Chelsea had flown from New York to Singapore for Christmas, before heading to Vietnam, where Dzojchen’s factory is, and then to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Back in town mid-January for the blink of an eye, during which we interviewed her in her studio and did a photo shoot with her, she was back out again to New York, home to her creative team. The brand has showrooms in New York, Singapore and Los Angeles, with a London showroom in the pipeline.
While she’s kept a punishing work and travel schedule for the past two years – “Jet lag is painful, and it doesn’t get easier, especially as I grow older” – she spends about half her time in Singapore, where she finds the headspace to do strategic planning for her brand. “Singapore will always be one of the most important parts of the brand. We’re headquartered here, though a lot of the action – fashion weeks, shoots, market weeks and press campaigns – is everywhere else.”
Every other day when she’s in town, she lunches with her father, Rick Scott-Blackhall. The Brit was a co-founder of Batey Ads, which famously birthed the iconic “Singapore Girl” marketing campaign. “He has always been my mentor and sounding board,” shares Chelsea. “My family is everything that matters to me – my heart, inspiration and pride.”
Creativity runs in the family. Her sister Samantha Scott-Blackhall is an award-winning theatre director, while her Singaporean mother Carol Balhetchet, a renowned child psychologist and a published author in that field, was formerly a theatre producer. Younger brother Robert is studying medical genetics at The University of Edinburgh in the uk.
Her Yardstick Of Success
While Chelsea was shortlisted to participate in the Fashion Futures programme, in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), in 2015, and picked up the Designer Of The Year award at the Singapore Fashion Awards 2017, she recalls “pounding the pavement” during Dzojchen’s earlier days.
Embarking on a backpacking trip through Europe on what was supposed to be a gap year before university, she stumbled into modelling.“It became a fruitful occupation that financed my travels and the experiences that built me. I did a lot of big campaigns in Asia. Earning six figures also generated the seed capital to launch Dzojchen.”
When she eventually decided to create her own fashion brand, she started small. “Without a formal education in fashion, I had to learn everything on my own – including managing expectations, the learning curve of operations and wholesale, and the impressions I needed to make. I attended the ‘University of Life’!”
Dzojchen launched in Singapore, New York and London consecutively, and first showcased in Berlin and New York. Debuting as a B2B business selling to stockists, her brand participated every season in trade shows and fashion weeks, from Paris and New York to Seoul and Tokyo, for both menswear and womenswear – a gruelling eight or more shows a year, she recalls.
Chelsea deliberates the many “bitterly disappointing” moments when it would have been easier to give up. “We’d take months to prepare a collection, only to receive no orders after appearing at the Paris trade show. We’d get stores turn us down or rejected orders, or seasons where we thought we would grow but we didn’t. Once, a full shipment of finished garments arrived at our warehouse bearing little semblance to the high-quality samples that we had approved, leaving us unable to fulfil an entire batch of orders.”
She never allowed herself to be defeated by these incidents, however. “They teach you to have thick skin in a fickle industry. From the day that I started till now, we’ve had some successes and failures, but I always saw an upward trajectory.”
The secret to her tenacious drive and consistent optimism? Chelsea muses: “It’s about following your own truth, whether that is driven by a cause, passion or a responsibility. It’s empowering when you understand that, and when you’re led by your version of your own life and are in full pursuit of finding your sense of wholeness.”
Looking back at last year, she considers it a combination of luck, hard work and good timing that put Dzojchen more frequently on the celebrity radar. “Usually, when it comes to dressing for a red carpet, stylists pull tens to hundreds of suits for celebrities. Out of all the outfits his stylist sourced, Boseman decided that our suit was what he wanted to wear. Since then, we started to get this blast of interest from the press and customers.”
While some deem awards and validation from the press and stars markers of success, Chelsea opines that success is subjective. “As an entrepreneur, the only way to get yourself through some of the harder times is to make your own set of rules and targets when it comes to ameasure of success. For me, honestly, pride in my work and knowing that the brand I’m building is exactly what it should be at each stage of our growth – that is my success.”
Fashion direction: Johnny Khoo
Art direction: Audrey Chan
Photography: Joel Low
Fashion styling: Jacquie Ang
Hair & makeup: Marc Teng/Atelier using Sebastian Professional & Chanel Beauty
Photography assistance: Alfie Pan
Fashion assistance: Jessica Khor